Ronald True was charged with the murder of 25-year-old
Olive Young. She was a prostitute and her real name was Mrs Gertrude
Yates. Her naked body was found by her cleaner in the bathroom. She had
been asphyxiated. A dressing gown cord was tied around her neck and a
towel had been stuffed down her throat.
True's trial opened at the Old Bailey on Monday 1st
May 1922. His defence was one of insanity. Four days later the jury
decided that True was guilty and he was sentenced to death.
An appeal was dismissed but a re-examination of True
was ordered and three medical experts declared him to be insane. He was
reprieved and removed to Broadmoor. He died there in 1951.
Ronald True (Manchester,
England, (1891 – Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, 1951)
was an English murderer. He was found guilty of the
murder of a prostitute in 1922 but reprieved by the Home
Secretary on the grounds of insanity and confined for
life in Broadmoor Hospital. His case raised important
issues relating to the legal defense of insanity.
True was born in Manchester in 1891
and educated at Bedford School. He failed to settle to a
career and his family found a series of positions for
him overseas. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915
but was discharged after his increasingly eccentric
behaviour, combined with addiction to morphia, led to
his discharge in 1916.
He visited the United States in 1917,
where he married Frances Roberts, with whom he had a
child. He returned to Britain where his family made him
an allowance. His behaviour was now even more eccentric
and he was convinced that he had a doppelgänger who was
his mortal enemy. He abandoned his wife and child and
lived on his allowance and on various petty frauds and
In March 1922 he murdered Olive Young
(also known as Gertrude Yates), a prostitute, in her
flat at 13 Finborough Road, Earls Court, and stole some
money. He failed to take elementary precautions against
detection and was arrested a few days later.
He was tried for murder at the Old
Bailey in May 1922. The defence at his trial was that he
was insane, which was undoubtedly true, but Sir Richard
Muir for the prosecution argued that under the M'Naghten
Rules he "knew what he was doing and knew that it was
wrong" and that he was therefore legally responsible.
The jury found him guilty.
He was reprieved by the Home
Secretary, Edward Shortt, amidst political controversy,
it being argued that True was being leniently treated on
account of his influential family. Shortt defended his
decision successfully in Parliament. The controversy was
heightened due to the concurrent case of Henry Jacoby,
an eighteen year old working class pantry boy who had
murdered a 65 year old titled lady, Lady White, and was
True was confined to Broadmoor
Hospital. During his incarceration, he worked actively
in the hospital's drama activities. He died at Broadmoor
Hospital in 1951.
In Popular Culture
The murder of Olive Young and True's
later incarceration, and relationship with fellow
murderer Richard Prince, in Broadmoor Hospital was the
subject of a play, Lullabies of Broadmoor,
performed at the Finborough Theatre, close to the site
of Olive Young's Murder, in 2004.
Donald Carswell (ed), Trial of
Ronald True, William Hodge and Co., 1950. ISBN
Harry Hodge, Famous Trials II,
Penguin, 1948. ISBN 0140006346
Murder in the Finborough
The Pantry Boy and the Toff
In 1922, in the basement flat of the house, 13a Finborough Road, one of
the most infamous murders of the interwar period was committed by Ronald
True - the murder of Gertrude Yates, a prostitute who worked under the
name Olive Young,
Ronald True was born in 1892, the
illegitimate son of a sixteen year old spinster and a youth of seventeen.
His mother eventually married well, and True was educated at public
school. He was employed in a string of disastrous short term jobs in New
Zealand, Canada, Mexico and China (where he became a morphia addict), as
a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, from which he was invalided out in
1916 after crashing three aeroplanes; as a test pilot and flying
instructor in the United States; and as the assistant manager of a mine
in Ghana. As his drug addiction and mental illness became worse, he
became a con artist, using his good manners and public school accent to
swindle his way around the country.
Gertrude Yates (who
used the business name of Olive Young) was a 25 year old former shop
girl in a West End fur store who worked as a prostitute (although she
preferred to use the term, "a lady with male friends") from her basement
flat in the Finborough Road. She had made enough money, not only to pay
the 43 shillings a week rent on her flat, but to furnish it with "sateen
weeping Pierrot dolls, shiny pot reminders of daytrips to seaside
resorts, and sequinned greetings cards that were too pretty to throw
away" and employ a daily maid, Emily Steel, who also lived in Finborough
True had first spent the night with Olive on
Saturday, 18 February 1922. She found her new client rather peculiar and
frightening and, after discovering five pounds missing from her handbag
after his departure, decided that she wanted nothing more to do with him.
During the next twelve days, True made many attempts to arrange another
meeting with Olive, but she avoided his calls and phone calls.
At the same time, the True family, realising that he was by now
dangerously insane, were trying to trace him in an attempt to get him
into long-term treatment for his mental illness.
at night on Sunday, 5 March 1922, True turned up unannounced at 13a
Finborough Road. Olive Young had been out on a trip to Piccadilly Circus
and had just got the tube home to Earl's Court, arriving home around
It is impossible to explain what made her change
her mind and let him in. But she did, and let him stay the night.
The next morning, Olive Young's maid let herself in to the flat as
normal, and met True on his way out. He murmured "Don't disturb Miss
Young. We were late last night, and she is in a deep sleep", and left.
Some time later, the maid opened the bathroom door and found the body of
her mistress. She had been battered to death with a rolling pin. Most of
her jewellery and trinkets were missing, and even a pile of shillings to
feed the gas meter and a half-crown and some pennies to pay the milkman
had been stolen.
Later that night, True was arrested
in a box at the Hammersmith Palace in King Street where he was watching
a music hall show.
His subsequent trial at the Old
Bailey lasted five days, and he was sentenced to death.
The crime would probably have faded into oblivion, but for the fact that
five days before True's trial, Henry Jacoby, an 18 year old pantry boy
in Spencer's Hotel in Portman Square, had also been sentenced to death
for the murder of one of the hotels guests, the 65 year old Lady White.
Whilst finding Jacoby guilty, the jury made a strong recommendation for
mercy, and the day before his sentence was due to be carried out, a
petition for his reprieve signed by several hundred people including two
members of the jury that convicted him, was handed in at the Home
Office. Edward Shortt, the Liberal Home Secretary, refused his appeal,
and Jacoby was executed.
The next day, after
examination by medical experts declared that Ronald True was insane, the
Home Secretary reprieved True from his death sentence and committed him
to Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
was a massive public outcry, fanned by the popular press. The popular
perception was that there was one law for the middle class True, saved
from the scaffold for the death of a prostitute; and another for the
working class killer of a titled lady. Whilst not entirely borne out by
the facts, the scandal was exacerbated by the fact that, whilst not
insane or mentally deficient, Jacoby was undoubtedly an immature
simpleton. The scandal led to a parliamentary committee to examine the
law relating to insanity which, however, left the the M'Naghten Rules of
1843 unchanged. The M'Naghten Rules state that every accused person is
presumed sane until the contrary is proved to the jurys satisfaction,
and that it must be shown that the accused must be "labouring under such
a defect of reason from disease of the mind as to not to know the nature
and quality of his act, or, if he did know it, that he did not know that
what he was doing was wrong."
Even the hangman, John
Ellis, was profoundly affected by Jacoby's sentence. Ellis himself
committed suicide ten years later, and it has been argued frequently
that the execution of Henry Jacoby had a permanent effect on Ellis mind.
In an interview, he said "I saw t'poor lad the day before his death. He
was nobbut a child. It was t'most harrowing sight I ever saw in my life.
And I had to kill him the next day."
Ronald True died
in Broadmoor in 1951, aged 60. In Broadmoor, he was a major figure in
organising entertainment for the inmates, alongside the conductor of the
hospital band, Richard Prince, the killer of actor William Terriss at
the Adelphi Theatre Stage Door in 1897.
A new play on
the True and Prince cases, Lullabies of Broadmoor, specially
commissioned for the Finborough Theatre was performed in January 2004.